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Online exclusive:She’s back on the bookshelves

Reynolds’ novel explores healing after a hate crime

By Philip Walzer

Sheri Reynolds is back - on the bookshelves.

Last spring, Bywater Books, a feminist and lesbian press, published "The Tender Grave," Reynolds' first novel since 2012.

"I kind of thought I was done," she said at a reading sponsored by the Muse Writers Center earlier this year.

But "I loved working on this book so much," said Reynolds, whose novel "The Rapture of Canaan" made Oprah's Book Club. "I reconnected with something in me that I had let go a little bit."

"The Tender Grave" springs from a hate crime, the poisons released in a dysfunctional family, and the first meeting of stepsisters from different worlds.

"I wasn't interested in representing the brutality of the crime," said Reynolds, the Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature. "I'm interested in the possibility for healing on the other side of destruction."

She also hopes the book, her seventh novel, encourages readers to see beyond their beliefs. "We love to take sides. We want to put on a team's jersey. It can be baseball or politics. We have got to find ways to have compassion and love for the other."

John McManus, director of the M.F.A. creative writing program, said, "The novel's as vibrantly alive as everything Sheri writes, and I do mean everything. Even a departmental assessment report - not a genre of writing I turn to for pleasure reading - has heart and soul when Sheri's writing it."

Reynolds writes those reports as chair of the English department, which, she said, "requires many of the same skills as writing a novel, in terms of being willing to do long-term projects and investing in a small piece and following the leads."

Reynolds became chair in 2016. "I was supported by the rpeople who came before me, and I wanted to give back. I knew the job would be demanding, but I didn't know how and in what ways."

She will leave that position this summer after finishing her second three-year term. That will allow her more time to write and teach. "I want to work with first-year students. I want to help them tell their stories."

One thing Reynolds will guarantee about her future books: "If anyone is worried, I am not interested in modeling my characters on anyone I worked with."